10 BIG Design Trends coming soon to Senior Housing

Jessica Mairs, of www.dezeen.com, recently summarized ten big design trends in custom residential architecture. The current buyers of custom homes are the next cohort of high-end senior living. Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) or Life Plan Communities need to be preparing for the oncoming wave of the high-income baby boomer cohort. This is what’s coming to senior housing sooner rather than later. Here’s our take on Jessica’s list as it applies to senior living.

1. Minimalist interiors.

Sleek and modern is back in style. It’s the experience of light and natural materials and not an overabundance of stuff. The baby boomers grew up on mid-century modern and Scandinavian design. For boomers, it’s a return to their roots.

2. Prefabricated.

Modular can be both cost-effective and aesthetically pleasing. Factory construction solves the chronic labor shortage in skilled construction trades. Expect key components to increasingly be pre-fabricated modular solutions, and not site-built.

3. Co-living.

Shared life/work spaces and shared housing are emerging as cost-effective solutions for cash-strapped residents. This trend started with millennials but it’s the perfect solution for aging boomers. The middle market’s cost of living is rising faster than income. Co-living or cooperative housing options will grow as boomers look to stretch limited savings and extend productive work lives. It also complements boomers’ smaller families and divorce rates.

4. Shingled exteriors.

Overlapping shingles are old technology being given new life with designers using both traditional wood shakes and innovative new materials like overlapping metal panels for rain walls. Designers are also playing with scale. New shingles aren’t limited to seven-inch reveals.

5. Charred timber.

The use of fire to char and harden wood is a traditional Japanese building technique – shou sugi ban. Whether as an accent or in exposed structural members or in weather-exposed siding, charred timber is catching on both for aesthetic character and durability.

6. Traditional fronts w/ contemporary interiors.

The urban trend of preserving historic street facades is cross-fertilizing with minimalist interiors to blend the old with the new. Interior spaces and additions need not match traditional streetscapes. Eclectic is the new rule.

7. Sustainability.

Boomers care about the environment and their net impact. Sustainable design is a saleable benefit in senior housing. Efficiency and alternative energy reduce future cash flow demands. Environmentally responsible sourcing will increasingly be the minimum expectation of the emerging boomer cohort.

8. Studios.

A creative parallel of the tiny house movement in residential architecture is the emergence of the stand alone studio space to foster creativity and connection with nature. The concept of the studio embodies the boomer ideals. Senior living design must deliver this same sense of artistic possibility to hit the baby boomers’ emotional chords.

9. Skinny skyscrapers.

New urban skyscrapers are increasingly for housing and not office space. Skyscrapers are now residential architecture as much as commercial architecture. Going up and not out is already an emerging trend in urban senior housing. (See our article on The Admiral, a Kendal project on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.) Skinny exploits even small sites and maximizes views. Seniors love views connecting them with nature, whether the greenery of gardens and trees or the weather horizon. If you’re an urban dweller the sky is your connection to nature.

10. New Construction Materials and Techniques.

The robots are coming to construction too. Masonry laid by or concrete laid down by giant 3D robotic printers are no longer science fiction. New materials like carbon fiber or highly engineered lumber components are making construction stronger, lighter and more energy efficient. To both command buyers’ attention and to stay cost competitive, designers will not be able to coast on the, “We’ve always done it that way,” construction details. Staying current on emerging materials and techniques will be essential for success in senior living housing developments.

Residential Architecture

Add these trends to the list of things to watch. Custom residential architecture is a good predictor for expectations of upper-middle-class to wealthy CCRC buyers of the future. We already see the strong influence of New Urbanism, Pocket Neighborhoods (Ross Chapin), and the Not so Big House (Sarah Susanka) – all prior calls as emerging trends.